Below is the first interview for PanopLit‘s oral history series on gamers that began playing tabletop RolePlaying games over a decade ago. My grandmother is our first interviewee. Now 76 years old, she began playing Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s, when it came out.
This was recorded nearly a year ago, on January 15th, 2017 and is the first of 2 parts. There are about a million things I wish I could have done differently, but at some point you just have to start. If someone can replace my hanging participles with the sound of rolling dice, that’d be great.
The photograph features 4 generations of women in my family. I am on the right, my mother is on the left, my grandmother stands above us, and my great grandmother is seated in the front.
Transcript of the interview begins below:
We are going to talk about, so, tabletop roleplaying game. Do you know what those are?
As opposed to like board games.
Right. Oh, well they’re role playing games, rights? You’re not doing the-
Throwing the dice and just going forward 5 spaces. Well, they are- they’re kind of roleplaying
But it’s. Oh, I got to think about that. Exactly what the difference is.
Right. So we’re talking about- so there are definitely dice in a lot of Role Playing Games, but we’re talking about more, I guess, I would say collaborative storytelling. And games where you’re on an adventure.
(0:45) does that make sense?
Yes, that does make sense.
So basically I wanted to talk about when did you first hear about these kinds of games or when you first heard about a game that wasn’t like Monopoly? That was a tabletop game, so a game played on the table that was different.
The first time was when Dungeons & Dragons came out.
Alright, do you remember when that was?
I would guess. I am thinking of the ages of the children, because you learn it through the children.
Right, how many kids do you have?
- Yeah, we learned it through them. I would say in the 70s.
Probably the early 70s?
So your family was playing right when it came out.
Right, right. Yeah, we were always a big game playing family. But before that it was board playing, card playing, a lot of board games. My husband liked games a lot, so we would sit and play a lot of games. Then when the roleplaying games came out, it was a concept I had a problem getting my head around.
To understand that. Oh, yes.
So what was difficult about adjusting to roleplaying?
Well, I had to think and make up, like you say roleplaying, make up my character. I had to think about the action. I had to do some creative thinking, which really in board games, you really don’t have to. It’s more like, the board games I’ve played, it’s more like luck.
You know, which, it has more rules. Lots of rules.
Yes, that’s true.
And with Dungeons & Dragons and that you had to freedom there. You really could move around.
That’s true, yeah. Oh, I should have also had you state your name.
Oh, okay, I’m Judy Leszczynski.
Alright, and then do you want to share your age?
Oh, sure, I’m 76.
So my 76 year old grandmother.
Oh yes, and my wonderful granddaughter.
Oh, thank you. Alright so, as far as that creative thinking, so you were playing these games with the kids and with your husband, correct?
Did you have, let’s see, do you remember any of the characters that you played, or did you make your own characters?
Well I made my own characters. That was kind of fun. It was female, and I can’t remember if I was a wizard, or if I was a witch. I mean, I can’t remember. But I remember it was a female. I liked that idea.
Right, awesome. And you used magic, right? You were a magic user.
Yes, oh yes. Yes. I am remembering more things now, because I only played it a few times.
(3:15) My children and my husband played it more.
I would more observe. Because like I said, it was hard work. To being creative and thinking about what you wanted for your character to have and what’s your purpose was.
Right. Did you- Were you given a choice when you were playing with the kids over what character type you were playing? (indecipherable)
Were you more attracted to magic than like having a big axe and hacking things down?
Oh, that’s a good- see, I hadn’t thought about this for a long time. I think I was. No, I liked the knocking things down.
I liked being more aggressive. The magic was fine. But to me that is kind of, not quite luck, but you can’t put a number on it. It’s Magic!
So you don’t know. But with weapons and that, well, and if you add a little magic to the weapon, well that will do just fine.
But yeah, I like the idea of knocking things down.
You were- you were fine with getting it done.
Getting what you need to done? Awesome. So who was running those games?
Well, when I played with my husband, he was the Dungeon Master. And I do remember we had like graph paper in front of us. He had something all plotted out.
And then we had graph paper in front of us. And I do remember following along, which way you are going. And there would be things hidden and it’s really kind of vague, now, because it’s been so many years since I played it.
(4:39) Right. But so you guys were playing with maps, and you were kind of exactly plotting where you were going.
Yes, oh, yes.
-in the world.
We had graph paper in front of us.
It sounds like grandpa, too, having that plan.
Yes. Very much so. Very much.
That’s awesome. Do you remember- so you enjoyed playing the games?
It was just a lot of- a lot of work to sit down and play. Do you know about how long you would play in a session?
Okay, I remember the one game. Several hours. I could just say several hours.
It wasn’t real quick. And then at the same time Intellivision had come out and we had Dungeons & Dragonson there. But it was just a very simply playing game. You really didn’t have – where you could pick your attributes. You really couldn’t do that with Intellivision.
Oh, so like, with like a console? Like a game console?
Yeah, exactly. It’s one of the first ones, I think. So that was fun to do. And then my husband and I would get into fights over who was going to get the monster. Because you’d hear him coming, like a sound that was like the monsters coming. (knocking on table.)
Oh, sure, yeah.
So you would take turns on- like taking on the monster?
You would have to pick who was going to get those experience points or whatever?
Exactly. We’re both very competitive.
It’s just I didn’t get the depth of the roleplaying game like he did.
(6:04) So you were more about like the power plays. Like, feeling successful after killing the monster.
Were you ever into treasure? Was that ever an interest in those games?
Oh, I’m thinking. Yeah, it would be a goal. And it would be nice to get the treasure.
But it wasn’t- I liked the aggressiveness.
You just like the action?
Exactly. Oh, yes.
That’s awesome. When you guys were playing together, did all of the kids play, or was it something you started doing when Bob, your youngest, started playing?
No, he was- he ended up playing a few times, but not very often, because he was such a, much younger. No, we played with Tom and John, my two sons. And I am trying to remember my girls. I think they may- I’m not- I was kind of busy.
I think they may have played. I think Carolyn may have played, my daughter, Carolyn, your mom.* Cathy, I don’t know if she played. She wasn’t always that interested. Something like that.
Okay, okay. And were- so as far as you being interested in these games. You were very interested in video games in the house.
You guys had the computer very early, much earlier than a lot of other families.
Okay, right. We had.
And the game consoles, you had very early. Were you ever interested in Fantasy or Science Fiction? Was that something that interested you in movies or books?
In books, Science Fiction. Very much. I call it the logical, not the magical, Fantasy or Science Fiction. I like Isaac Asimov, which always.
Alright, so like hard Science Ficiton.
Yeah, I think I read all his fiction. I haven’t read all his text books, but I think I read all of his fiction, or pretty close to it.
Alright, and as far as playing, when you were playing Dungeons & Dragons, were you interested in like the world at all, or like the idea of like living in a world where the sword gets it done over you know, like going to the store and buying something. Whatever the modern equivalent would be.
Sure, right. No, I don’t think so. I’m very much a rule following person. I have a hard time getting out of that box. You know, become creative. So I usually don’t go on my own. So I don’t know if that even occurred to me. So I try, but you know, very much a rule playing person.
Okay, so when you were playing did you find it helpful to have direction, like interacting with the world and the game? Was it more helpful to say ‘This is our mission and that’s where I’m going,” or was it more, ‘I want to see what’s behind that door’?
Okay. No it was more-
Do you remember?
‘This is our mission and here we go.’ I think I got, later on I got a little more curious, (indecipherable)
But that was hard for me. To get out of that box.
Okay. That’s fun. So did you ever play these games outside of your family?
Or were you ever interested in?
No, there really wasn’t an occasion. I maybe would watch someone. But no, it was just our family. It was very much the family and their friends didn’t play these games.
We were kind of odd one out in the neighborhood as far as- because we always had this stuff going on, these different games going on. Yeah, so it was just us.
Okay, did you- were you aware that Dungeon’s & Dragons was invented in Wisconsin?
That was a big, big cultural thing here.
That was a point of pride, and also, now that you’re talking, I was working, you know, at the school at the time, and my friends, they were, some of them were kind of shocked.
Dungeons & Dragons had a real negative, magical, evil-
Oh yeah? Talk more about that. Was there like a stigma over you playing it with your family?
Well, it was kind of shocking to some, because they considered it anti religious. Oh, yes, And the magic and – I said “oh, it’s a fund game! It’s just a game,” you know. And the role playing aspect I guess was just so new to everybody. My generation.
Oh, yeah, they were kind of surprised that I let my children play it and let alone I played it with them. You know.
So did you see- was there a lot in the media demonizing Dungeons & Dragons or was it just your kind of friend group being shocked?
There was some in the media.
(10:24) Yeah, it was controversial. It really was. Which I never quite got. I mean, I know what they were saying, but to me you are just not looking at it. It’s a game. It is just something different. It’s creative. It is not evil.
No, that is, yeah, that’s great. I agree, actually. So as far as the magic elements. Did anything in the game concern you with your kids playing it? Or did you just see it as a fun, fantasy adventure?
It was a fun fantasy adventure. I never saw a problem.
Alright. Was anybody,- when they would talk about the controversial aspects of the Dungeon’s & Dragons, or the video games that you played that were like Dungeons & Dragons, was there anything about the violence in those games? Or was it always just the magic, the anti religious?
It would be the magic anti religious. I don’t think they were violent. The ones we had, they weren’t violent. I mean, you are hitting a monster over the head, I guess.
That is violent. But not exaggerated violence, not gratuitous. That’s like- the technology wasn’t there like it is today.
I guess that’s true. Interesting. So as far as your family, did anyone else, like cousins or anything play?
Or it was just your immediate family?
Yeah, no they probably played with the cousins, but they lived in another state.
The cousin’s here in Milwaukee weren’t interested that wasn’t anything they were concerned about.
That’s funny. How did you, do you know how you guys heard about Dungeon’s & Dragons, like how did that even get into your home?
Okay. I don’t know. I never. I don’t remember. I would have to think about it.
Were there, like game stores? Where were you buying your board game when you were, or your card games, when you were in the 70s?
There weren’t game stores as such. They were the- well, department stores at that time. Or big box stores. And I think my husband heard some of these for work. From some of these fellow. Because he brought home Intellivision, that console. And we had it for quite a while, and then we took it and got a new one for nothing.
But it was a flaw in Intellivision, so then we took it and it broke again and we didn’t go back.
Interesting. So you were, the warranty or whatever was that good, service was that good you could just take it in after it broke.
Right, and I think it was because it was a new technology. I mean, this was all new, these home computers and that are all new.
I think nowadays they just are very “well it broke, too bad,” “these things break.”
Oh, really? So yeah, we had to drive way out someplace. And yeah, and maybe they were, maybe we went to the place where they made them. I don’t know. It looked a little bit like a factory. And we got it, so-
Interesting. As far as the adventures that you guys were playing, in Dungeons & Dragons, on the tabletop, were you, do you know if any of the adventures were being written by grandpa, or were these things that he was reading and then kind of running you guys through?
Okay, he did do some creating. That’s why he had his map. Oh, yes. He did that. I can picture him sitting at the table and he had this all plotted out, scotch taped this to the table, you know the map and that.
Did he do a lot of prep time, or was it-
Well, he did. Maybe an hour or something like that. I don’t know what he was doing. I didn’t always know when he was working on it. He enjoyed it. Yeah, he enjoyed doing that.
14:00 That’s my memory of it.
Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun. Did you, when weren’t playing Dungeons & Dragons, did you ever find yourself in that mindset, or interested in thinking more about what your character would do in different situations? Did you find a personal connection with the game at all?
Oh, okay. No. Not really.
Okay, so it was more just like this is what I’m playing now.
Yes, and the children are enjoying it. It was always the children.
Right, right, so it was always focused on their experience. So, going back to D&D as a Wisconsin thing, were you, moving forward into the 80s and the 90s, were you as a family, or yourself, aware that there was a huge culture building up around Dungeons & Dragons? And that there was this whole alternative, kind of gaming culture starting?
Did you ever interact with that, or was it just something you were kind of on the outside.
Just on the outside. Just kind of aware of it, and it was fine, you know, that it was growing. And very much I was always aware that it was a Wisconsin game. Now why I should be surprised that Wisconsin created something like that. But it was always a point of pride that they started it. And that was roleplaying.
Yeah, that it started here. That’s great.
Those long winters or something.
Yeah, that makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. When you were- were you ever interested in reaching out to those groups of people that were also interested in it, or was it more of just a “this is something my family does, this is something we do together?”
Yeah, it was what my family does. I didn’t really reach out and do much of the social.
Okay. And then when you were reading Science Fiction, was that something you would discuss with your friends, or were they also reading Science Fiction?
No, I was the one who was reading Science Fiction, so I discussed it with my family.
It really was very nice. I sometimes say I don’t know why I’m friends with these people because we don’t seem to have anything in common. No, my reading’s different, and even movies. Playing games and that. None of my friends were interested in that.
Trying to think if there’s another- have you played recently? Like, did you stop playing when the kids were older?
I stopped playing when the kids were older, and they had their own lives to go on with. And I have, oh my goodness- (indecipherable) I don’t know if I could remember how to play it.
Did you find it really difficult to learn all the rules and get into? Or did you find yourself kind of connecting to the roleplaying right away?
Right, I found it kind of difficult, because I remember saying “ oh, I can do that?” or “I have to do this-” you know. I was always surprised. I guess I really got hung up on how complicated it was, being used to rule number 1, rule number 2, rule number 3- to go outside that. And then my grandchildren played. So I just kind of watched or listened. I didn’t really play it, but it was interested to me. I remember the game Magic. The card game Magic.
I remember that. And I knew at one time what some of the rules were. But it was more me watching than playing. I know at one time I knew some of the rules.
As far as- do you have any memorable moments from any of those games? Or can you remember any- did the kids ever fight during any of those games? Or were there any arguments about what the party should be doing, or how they should be handling the situation?
There may have been some. But we never really got angry with each other.
We were open to each other. I don’t know if that’s what you want to do, but no big fights. I don’t remember any big fights. May be selective memory, though.
But you guys, so it seems like you were a pretty cohesive, cooperative-
Group. Do you remember what grandpa was like as a Dungeon Master? Was he very hard on his party?
Oh, yes. He didn’t cut any slack. That was from board games. Because I would scold him. One of our sons, John, he was the younger one at the time, he wouldn’t give up. You know, he wanted to do, and my husband would not, grandpa would not cut any slack. If he lost, he lost, that was how the game went.
Do you know- so a lot of my friends, who grew up in Wisconsin, playing board games, have stories about their parents being very hard on them in these games. Or doing things to try to get the party, like, killed and things like that. Do you know if that ever happened or if he was very difficult.
Not that way. No, I remember him like setting up traps and that (indecipherable). No, he was never that way. But, you know, whatever happened, as he plotted along, he did not purposefully want to trap you or sabotage.
Right, no sabotage.
No, he didn’t want to sabotage. But if you fell into whatever happened, well (thumps on table), that’s what it said.
That’s what happened.
How old were the kids when they started playing?
Oh, I will have to guess.
Mh hmm, that’s fine.
They were born in 65, so. I say they were 10. 10 were probably for the younger ones, for the boys. Because that would make them, that would be 75. Yeah. They would probably be 10. Maybe 12. 8.
Did any of your kids continue to play with their kids?
Maybe the younger ones, maybe Bob did, because he had the dice.*
(Grandmother pauses to take medication)
* My uncle Bob is 15 years younger than my mother, and over a decade younger than the next closest sibling.